Monthly Archives: April 2014

Crowdsource Your Photographs

Web-based GIS allows us to share maps, data, and curriculum in so many ways.  It also provides a way for students to actively participate in the construction of maps as citizen scientists, as my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick described in his essay, “Crowdsource Your Fieldwork.”   A story map I recently created with students at Colgate University illustrates an additional way that students can collect data that is added to a single online map–with photographs that they take in the field.

Colgate University Story Map from Crowdsourced Photographs

Colgate University Story Map from Crowdsourced Photographs.

The professor of the class and I gave the students in a GIS class an assignment two weeks before I arrived on campus:  Take photographs of themes that interest you, such as vegetation, water, buildings, walkways, tree species, or weather conditions, and send them to an online photo storage site.  In this case, I had the students email the photographs to a specific email address, which placed the photos into a folder I had created on Picasaweb/Google Plus.  Then when I arrived on campus to teach the class, together in a computer lab, we built the story map by pointing to the online folder where the photographs were stored.  What was most intriguing to me from a technological point of view was that I discovered last year that if the subject line of the email matches the folder name in Picasaweb/Google Plus, then the photographs automatically are placed into that folder.  Then one simply has to point to that folder in constructing the story map, using the methods I describe here.  In a few seconds, the story map was done, except for the photo captions, which we added over the next few minutes.

The map thus became a “crowdsourced photograph” story map.  The students had ownership of the photographs and had engagement in the effort, and the fact that all of the photographs were in a single folder made the creation very easy.  The photographs taken with a smartphone with the GPS function enabled were placed automatically and accurately on the map, within a meter or two.  The story map creation tool promoted us to manually place the photographs that were taken with a camera with no GPS connection on the map.  This, too, was an easy process, involving dragging each photograph to the correct location on the map.  The geotagged photographs that were taken indoors, or outdoors near high building walls were automatically placed on the map 5 to 100 meters away from where they were actually taken.  We could and did adjust the position of these photographs.  This provided an excellent teachable moment to discuss how geolocation and GPS work, which prompted a further discussion about being critical about the map data that is being analyzed.

For more examples that effectively integrate fieldwork with geotechnologies, see the book Tech-Enabled Field Studies by Roger Palmer and Tom Baker, from Carte Diem Press and GISetc.  I encourage you to give crowdsourcing photographs with story maps a try, and reflect on your results with this community.

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SpatiaLABS now available as open educational resources

We’re pleased to announce that Esri SpatiaLABS are now available as open educational resources at or by searching ArcLessons. SpatiaLABS are hands-on GIS activities for promoting spatial reasoning and analysis skills. They are available with a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike license.

Over 40 labs currently are available on topics in both the social sciences and physical/environmental sciences.  All labs are peer-reviewed and can be customized to your specific needs.  A sampling of titles is below.

SpatiaLABS are designed for use in higher education, but are available to anyone with an interest in spatial analysis and GIS.  Most activities use ArcGIS for Desktop; some also use the Esri Business Analyst extension.  Please send questions to

  • The Spatial Distribution of Poverty: A geographically weighted regression
  • Change in the Right Direction: Monitoring land-cover change by satellite
  • Educational Performance and Family Income: Diamonds on the soles of scholarship?
  • Environmental Equity and Air Toxics
  • Groundwater for Many People: The spatial science of a shared resource
  • Analyzing Ancient Yoruba Political Power and Urbanization Patterns
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Esri Development Center (EDC) Program

ArcGIS has become a platform—a foundation upon which geospatial professionals build custom solutions that meet their organizations’ particular needs. Graduates of higher education programs in GI systems and science who can code software and build apps are highly sought after by employers. The Esri Development Center (EDC) program confers specialEsri Development Center program logo status and benefits upon a select few leading university departments that challenge their students to develop innovative applications based upon the ArcGIS platform. This can include programs that help students advance and extend Esri’s core software or that provide training in system integration and application development within a particular domain. EDCs may be degree-granting academic departments or GIS research and development centers within higher education institutions that maintain an Esri Education Site License. Students affiliated with EDC programs gain special access to Esri software and have opportunities to be recognized for their accomplishments.

One of the expectations associated with the EDC designation is that Centers will sponsor participation by students in the annual Esri International Developers Summit in Palm Springs – or a corresponding regional event. The 2014 Developers Summit attracted thirty-seven faculty members and students representing 13 Esri Development Centers. A record eight EDC students were accepted to present talks. Esri education team members attended most of these.

EDC representatives and Esri staff met at the event. As in previous years, the main agenda item was to hear from EDC reps about activities at their centers, with an emphasis on student app development. In addition, the meeting featured two guest presentations. The first was by Andrew Turner of Esri’s Washington DC R&D Center, who introduced the ArcGIS Open Data initiative. Later, Jim Barry, leader of the Esri Developer Network program, discussed Esri’s support for Dev Meetups and hackathons, as well as Esri’s new website for developers.

Related to this, John Nording and Michael Humber – students affiliated with the EDC at the University of Maryland – earned second place in the Dev Summit hackathon. This is a remarkable achievement considering that their competitors included teams of commercial developers. We hope to see more EDC hackers compete next year, and more EDCs established at leading institutions!

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Fun with GIS 157: Schools of Stories

Story Maps rock! They are spreading like wildfire, and have given birth to a banquet of new options for map geeks to consider. Adults love them, and kids grasp them immediately.

In recent weeks, I have looked at creations by students from grade 3 on up. Esri’s Story Maps page has become hugely popular among educators and kids who wish to integrate subject matter, scientific thinking, math concepts, communication skills, technology, problem solving, and creativity (“Hello, Common Core State Standards!”), or who just want to explore content in captivating ways. Whether highlighting the intricacy of Gettysburg, the deadly power of natural disasters, the analytics of fracking, or icons like … Ferris Bueller? … the Story Map format gives creators an extra dose of creative license, helping them grab viewers’ attention.

The Story Maps gallery offers easy browsing, and there are instructions and templates so anyone can put these together … anyone with a little time and vision … like students. Whether based on photos or analytical maps, these are integrative aides for exploring, digging deeper, and building and sharing a message.

Clark Magnet High School, in La Crescenta, CA, built a tradition of strength with ArcGIS Desktop, earning multiple national awards and a featured slot on stage of Esri’s International Conference in 2011. This year, they took up Story Maps to present their latest work and broaden the distribution of their messages. The Clark team again this year earned multiple awards, and their several Story Maps present powerful evidence. They added to these by looking at illegal marijuana grow sites as well as tracking of threatened species.

Having mastered gathering data, analyzing it, making maps, and telling a story, students have a set of skills that adults value hugely. Building skills along with the underlying data, analytics, maps, and the visible tools of Story Maps makes a great boost for college and career!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Web Maps, Web Apps, Story Maps

Web maps, web apps, story maps … these and other new terms are frequently used in the new world of cloud based GIS.  Sorting through the lexicon of any field is critical to understanding it and to teach it.  What are the similarities and differences between these terms, and how does one decide when to use each of them?

All three of these terms refer to a web map dynamically stored in the cloud, or a remote server, so that the map user can interact with it in various ways.  By “interact”, I mean change the scale, extent, classification, or symbology, add or subtract data, filter data, analyze spatial relationships, and more.  Depending on your goals, you may want to create and use one or all three of these types of maps.  The way that maps are created and stored in the ArcGIS Online cloud to begin with is via a web map.  Let me illustrate with an example showing a bicycling trip I took from New York City to New Jersey following one of the Association of American Geographers conferences.  Upon the completion of my trip, I created a web map in ArcGIS Online showing my bicycling route, which I captured using a GPS device that I carried with me.  I recorded my route as a track, and I added that track as a GPX file to ArcGIS Online.  I saved the resulting map as a standard ArcGIS Online web map, which I shared with everyone so that can look at it as well, in the link above and shown below.

Bicycle Route, New York City to New Jersey

Bicycle Route, New York City to New Jersey, shown in ArcGIS Online.

Users of your ArcGIS Online maps will not only be able to access your map as you have created it, but they can also save it into their own ArcGIS Online account and make changes to it.  For example, I started with the map above and wanted to analyze the median age along my route.  I easily added that layer to it and saved it as a new map.

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey with Median Age

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey with Median Age.

But now let’s say I want to create a map with multiple panels, each showing a different map theme, or a map showing a 3D profile of my bicycling route.  This is where web apps come in.  A web app is an application, and ArcGIS Online provides a number of useful web app templates that you can use, or you can configure your own.  I think of it this way:  If you want your map user to have access to the full array of ArcGIS Online tools, publish your map as an ArcGIS Online web map.  But if you want specific tools and functions to be available to your users, and you don’t want them to be distracted by the other tools and functions in ArcGIS Online, then publish your map as a web app.  How can you do this?  When you are saving your map, simply indicate that you wish to publish to a web app, and you will be presented with a list of options.

To illustrate a web app, I created a web app from my ArcGIS Online map to show the 3D profile of my cycling route along with the median age.

New York City to New Jersey elevation profile, with median age, web app.

New York City to New Jersey elevation profile, with median age, web app.

Story maps, about which we frequently write in this blog because of their great utility in education, are simply a specific type of web apps.  A whole set of story map apps exist to choose from.  One type of story map is a storytelling text and legend. which I used to create the story of my experience, with tabs indicating streets with my cycling route, income, tapestry lifestyle and consumer behavior, and diversity.

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey as a storymap web app

Bicycling Route from New York City to New Jersey as a storymap web app.

Thus, it is important to think about your goals when making any map and doing any analysis.  Good planning is always worth it!  Web maps, web apps, and storymaps all have great utility in education.  Or, to use the common vernacular, “it’s all good.”

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New K-12 Climate Science and Mapping Careers Video

Climate change is a geographic problem, and we believe solving it takes a geographic solution.  Find case studies, e-Books, mapping tools, and more resources from Esri at or explore the Esri Climate Resilience App Challenge 2014.

Ned Gardiner, NOAA

Virtual Job Shadow in conjunction with Esri Education and NOAA brings climate scientist, Ned Gardiner  to K-12 CTE students around the country interested in mapping and climate science.

The NOAA National Climatic Data Center keeps the world’s largest climate data archive, and provides climatological analysis to every sector of the economy. And while climate change is one of the most debated topics on Planet Earth, the controversy has little to with the scientific data being collected. It’s Ned Gardiner’s job to take all that data and help us understand what it all means. Do not miss this incredible job shadowing experience!

See this video and other GIS-STEM career videos at the Esri EdCommunity’s career video page.

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2 years, 2,895 miles, 4,659 km, 5,790,000 steps

When beginning work on a chapter about geotechnologies for an upcoming book entitled Practical Sports CoachingI began testing smartphone fitness apps.  Upon the recommendation of my co-author Jill Clark, I started using Runkeeper.  Now two years later, I have walked the distance across the North American continent.  While this distance is nothing to what my lifelong walking and running colleagues have accomplished, it touches on several aspects of geotechnology that we frequently write about here and elsewhere.

First, this provides a good illustration of the added value that mapping lends to understanding something.  Like other fitness apps, Runkeeper keeps track of your activities in a variety of graphs and maps, as shown below.

One of the reports from Runkeeper

One of the reports from the Runkeeper fitness app.

However, mapping brings added value and understanding.  I loaded a week’s worth of walks into ArcGIS Online by loading the routes from Runkeeper as GPX files, and symbolized each by the day the walks were taken, shown in the above link and in the image below.  Using the same technique, you and your students could map the locations of your fieldwork, and so much more.

My walks in Redlands during the week of our teacher professional development institutes.

My walks in Redlands during the week of our teacher professional development institutes mapped in ArcGIS Online.

Second, how are these reports and maps possible?  Runkeeper, like so many other apps nowadays, make use of location based services and GPS, and are part of the “Internet of Things” – the geoenabling and monitoring of everyday devices.  My colleague Jill Clark and I frequently write about this on Spatial Reserves, our blog about geospatial data and the implications surrounding that data.

Third, the videos I have made from these walks reflect a great variety of climate, landforms, landscapes, ecoregions, “walkability” of cities (or the difficulty thereof!), weather, seasons, and much more, which might be useful in physical and cultural geography courses.  These include walking in the desert to a saguaro to the rainforests of Costa Rica, through leaves and on land that had been burned, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through a snowy field in Kansas, the forest in Oregon, on a ridge in the chaparral biome, on cobblestones in Belgium, through a cornfield in Wisconsin, on the busy streets of Taipei, and elsewhere. I also have walked in what may be the strangest place of all, near the rental car complex at DFW airport.  As long as my knees hold out, I intend to keep walking!  It is a great form of fieldwork that allows geographers, and others, to really observe what is below, around, and above us.

What privacy implications do the geoenabling of everyday devices have?  What societal benefits does the geoenabling of devices and cloud-based GIS bring to society?

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Educational performance and family income: A common educational research question

Two young girls entering elementary school in Boston aspire to be doctors. Both come from two-parent, one-income families with two siblings. In 13 years and with hard work, assuming all other variables equal, how will their SAT scores compare given that one comes from an impoverished household and the other from a household that is well-to-do?

Is there a relationship between educational performance and family income in the State of Massachusetts, and how might that relationship be illustrated?

Jeff Blossom’s SpatiaLAB lesson addresses this question through an ArcGIS for Desktop activity comparing average family income in Massachusetts school districts and a percent proficiency score in math and English.  The activity is straightforward and well written.  It can serve as a model for a way researchers might illustrate the relationship between income and educational performance in their own state. The activity includes both student and instructor handouts and has prepared the data in such a way as students can quickly jump into the analysis and meaning making of the exercise.

Image above:   Educational Achievement in Massachusetts by School District, 2012

This post is a part of the 2014 blog series on Educational Research and Geospatial Technologies.

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Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations: New Article

I have written a new article for Journal of Research and Didactics in Geography (J-READING) entitled Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations.  The full text is available online.  My goal in writing the article was to demonstrate through research and practice that today’s web maps show more than simply the locations of physical and cultural objects.  They allow students to do more with the maps.  They foster understanding of relationships, linkages, and patterns inherent between and among such phenomena as ecoregions, land use, demography, watersheds, commerce, natural hazards, and social networks.

With the evolution of today’s mapping technologies into cloud-based platforms, educators and students as never before have a wide variety of data and tools at their fingertips that allow them to explore key issues of the 21st Century at scales from local to global.  Students can upload their own data into these web maps alone or as part of citizen science projects, and share their maps with others in an online environment.  These maps become multimedia-rich tools that students engage with while gaining critical thinking skills, career skills, and interdisciplinary content knowledge.

After laying a foundation supported by research, I describe what web maps are and why they are important in society.  I discuss the ties between GIS and web mapping.  Next I discuss why web maps are important in education.   I then illustrate how web maps and imagery can be used to support effective instruction.  I begin by examining change over time using photographs and web maps, with examples from Hurricane Katrina, local changes in any neighborhood using aerial photos, satellite images, and topographic maps, and key regional changes by comparing Landsat scenes.  I then show how ArcGIS Online can be used to examine global agriculture, current issues such as a proposed new road through the Serengeti in Tanzania, and local phenomena through mapping and analyzing field data that students have collected in their own community, meadow, river, or even on their own campus.

Students can use these powerful web mapping tools and data to understand that the Earth is changing. Then, they can use the maps to begin to think scientifically and analytically about why it is changing.  Asking the questions and being inquisitive are critical to the successful use of web maps and GIS in education.  Through the use of these web mapping technologies, instructors can help students to begin analyzing the “whys of where”—the essence of geographic inquiry.

Educators:  What is your experience using web mapping investigations to help students understand our changing world?  How have these tools and methods helped you achieve your educational goals?  Students:  What is intriguing to you about using these tools?  Does it encourage you to dig deeper into the “whys of where”?   What tools and data are needed in the future?

Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations

Understanding Our Changing World Through Web Based Mapping Investigations: Some examples from the article shown here.

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